Arenella review: Authentic alfresco Sicilian brunch is pasta-tively delicious

The criteria for the perfect bottomless brunch for most of us used to be – are the cocktails plentiful and the food delicious? In 2020, we have added: Does the restaurant have a heated terrace? For new opening Arenella, in Islington, the answer, to all three of these, is a resounding yes. 

The bottomless lunch menu at new opening Arenella is a hearty Italian affair

Overlooking the hubbub of the Angel area, this newly opened hedge-bordered alfresco lunch spot, named after the Sicilian seaside town where owner Alessandro Rotta’s mother grew up, Arenella, is a residency at local staple The Chapel Bar and boasts the perfect outdoor area for catching up with friends over authentic caponata and cocktails. And we haven’t stopped thinking about its regional, rich tomato and aubergine sauces since we visited. 

Arenella’s mozzarella arancini

Opening a new London restaurant in late 2020 is bold. And Arenella’s menu is bold to match. Forget the airy appetisers and light tapas finger food which often make up brunch menus around the city – Arenella’s fare is all about hearty, decadent South Italian dishes that would make a nonna proud. 

The meatballs at Arenella

The bottomless lunch menu available at the weekends from 12pm-8pm, includes two large courses, plus unlimited prosecco, Aperol Spritz, Vino Blanco Spritz or non-alcoholic Elderflower Spritz cocktails for an extremely reasonable £35. We especially liked that you can mix and match these drink options during your lunch – something rarely seen when it comes to the city’s brunch menus – and implore you to make the most of the made-to-order Aperol Spritz offer. 

Pasta ala Norma

For our lunch tasting, we started with Mozzarella Arancini with tomato sauce, and the restaurant’s special meatballs with tomato sauce and mozzarella. A bountiful starter, the arancini boasted a cheese pull to die for, while the meatballs were juicy and beautifully seasoned. Both options come bathed in generous swathes of a rich tomato sauce – that we could even have had more of, by the spoonful. 

Steak Tagliata with rocket and parmesan

For mains, we opted for the Pasta ala Norma, a beautiful dish of typically Sicillian ingredients and flavours of aubergine, tomato and ricotta, pulled together with fresh mafalde pasta. Paired with a simple rocket and parmesan salad on the side, the dish’s fresh ingredients and authentic prep was positively divine. We also chose the Steak Tagliata with rocket and parmesan. Tender and flavoursome, we ordered it cautiously medium, and it was perfectly offset by the peppery fresh rocket.

Lemon polenta cake

A visit to this Sicilian kitchen can’t go without treating yourself to a home-made Italian dessert, too. Especially since, despite only recently opening, the chef is renowned for his Italian baking – which is already popular at owner Alessandro Rotta’s Italian-New York deli-style cafe in Angel, Mercer & Co. (try the salt beef bagels while you’re there, too – but that’s a review for another time). Of course, the sweets here at Arenella are suitably decadent to match the rest of its rich menu. 

Tirimisu at Arenella

The Tora di Mele, an Italian apple cake accompanied by salted caramel, is in fact, so popular, that we didn’t get to it quick enough and it had sold out by the time we got to dessert – but no matter, we sampled the joys of the tiramisu, a magnificently creamy, sumptuous affair, generously dusted in cocoa, and the Sicilian lemon polenta cake, another must-try regional highlight from Rotta’s baking oeuvre. 

Arenella owner and head chef Alessandro Rotta brings an authentic taste of South Italy to Islington

A hidden gem in the city, Arenella boasts as indulgent a lunch menu as you could wish to find, and a far cry from the frugal plates offered by pricier ‘bottomless’ brunch establishments. You’ll come for the safe and cosy outdoor heated terrace, but stay for the veritable feast of Sicilian flavours. We know where we’ll be arranging our outdoor lunches in 2021… and there’s no better way to do it than with bottomless Aperol Spritz and a nonna’s (or South Italian restaurateur’s) home cooking. 

The bottomless lunch menu is available on Saturday and Sunday from 12pm-9pm, for £35 per person, with upgrades available to free-flowing champagne. Latest opening and reservation information for Arenella at thechapelbar.co.uk. Find Arenella at The Chapel Bar, 29 Penton Street, London, N1 9PX.

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Bex April May is an experienced entertainment, travel and lifestyle journalist based in London, writing for The Guardian, Metro, Cosmopolitan, MTV, Shortlist and more. Follow her adventures on Twitter @bexlectric and on Instagram @bexaprilmay

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